MGP: Things Are Not Always What They Seem

When people hear the word growth relative to education, they assume you are referring to improving academic achievement.  For example, Denver Public School District “has shown the strongest year-on year growth,” therefore its students are moving toward proficiency.  In today’s world of “reform,” this is not necessarily the case, particularly when the term MGP- Median GROWTH Percentile – comes into play.  From the Colorado Department of Education,  (PPA is Percentage Proficient and Advanced)

This confusion – often deliberate – allows districts and states to mask the true educational “progress” that is occurring in schools and districts.  When is growth not growth?

On Thursday, September 17, 2014, the Denver Public Schools honored 42 schools that have shown Median Growth Percentile (MGP) increases. MGP is different from academic growth. MGP is determined by the use of a median calculated by a metric called growth percentiles. Growth percentiles measure change in an individual student or cohort (in this case other schools with similar numbers of free and reduced lunch students and students where English is a second language) over a year’s time. MGP is complicated and often miscontrued. Median Growth Percentile analyst Alexander Ooms says he finds the Colorado Growth Model which is based on MGP troubling because “Growth is often misunderstood and misapplied, and is routinely cited as evidence for conclusions that it does not support.” He goes on to say,

 “Growth percentiles are a relative measurement to a peer group….Growth percentiles are being used as an absolute metric when they are normative: yes, we know that kids finishing above 50 are moving faster than those below 50, but looking only at growth percentiles means we don’t know if kids are getting closer to the standard. Growth percentiles cannot tell us a student’s speed, but only if they are moving faster or slower than their peers.”

In addition to Mr. Ooms, other “reformers” in Denver have been citing an over obsession with growth over proficiency. The citizens oversight committee A Plus Denver released a report called True North: Goals for Denver Public Schools that started out

The fundamental purpose of any public school system is to graduate students at a level of proficiency that enables them to meet the professional and personal challenges of the modern world.  The purpose is not to have proficient 3rd, 5th, or 8th graders, nor to have academic growth that still leaves students unable to read, write, and perform math at the level necessary to fully participate in and contribute to our democratic society.

[…] At the moment students depart the K-12 system to enter college or career, it matters neither how proficient they were years before, nor the pace at which they have risen. Simply put: exit-level proficiency should be the primary goal of any public school system. (my emphasis)

Out of the 42 DPS schools honored, 17 schools experienced a DECREASE in proficiency. That’s right.  Forty percent (40%) of these celebrated schools are moving in the wrong direction vis a vis proficiency. If your goal is getting everyone to proficiency by 2020 and you are losing proficiency, it seems results such as these would dictate a course correction. Not so for DPS.  Is it because MGP in the world of DPS really means Masking (real) Growth Problems or Manipulating the General Public or even Misrepresenting Gained Proficiencies ?

Mr. Ooms:

We have districts and schools who believe that growth percentiles slightly above 50 mean they are making progress on proficiency.  That is circumspect. These schools are doing well only in a relative sense: they are doing well compared to other Colorado schools and districts; they are not doing well in preparing students for college and career…. We are doing a grave disservice to the future of our students when schools and districts celebrate growth scores that are only marginally better than the State median. (my emphasis)

Superintendent Tom Boasberg and many of his chosen Board of Education members have been out promoting the DPS “gains.” Mr. Boasberg has written – once again – an email touting these “growth” gains:

 I am once again pleased to announce our Denver students, for the third straight year, have shown the strongest year-on-year academic growth among major districts in Colorado.

In two recent public meetings, Mr. Boasberg, Board President Happy Haynes and Vice President Anne Rowe also plugged “growth,” leaving most people in both audiences with the impression DPS students are really growing, and this growth is growth toward proficiency.

How can the Denver Public School District showcase schools that are losing proficiency, especially if its often stated educational goal is to make sure all students graduate high school and are “college or career ready?”   How many schools in DPS have seen a proficiency decrease with an MGP higher than 50, and conversely, how many DPS schools have seen a proficiency increase with an MGP lower than 50, making MGP metrics basically meaningless?  What are the real reasons behind the touting of this kind of “growth?”  Why is the District hiding behind MGP?  Some possibilities:

  • The District deceptively uses “growth” to indicate what most of us assume to be academic growth because it wants the public to believe “growth” means “growth,” not some normative number based on a state median of 50;
  • The District can’t really flaunt real academic growth as represented by proficiency gains since there were next to none according to the 2014 standardized state tests – 0% in reading, 1% in math, 2% in writing, for a yearly average of 1.4%, 1.8%, and 1.4% respectively over the ten years of “reform”;
  • The District certainly can’t celebrate a top “reformer” goal, a decreasing achievement gap, because Denver’s achievement gap, now renamed an opportunity gap, has seen steady increases since “reform” has been thrust upon us;
  • The complicated structure of the Colorado growth model allows the District to further obfuscate the real academic situation, resulting in the Manipulation of the General Public through a Misrepresentation of Gained Proficiencies

One final note on the use of MGP: While Colorado has not fully implemented Senate Bill 191 (the law that now mandates 50% of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on test scores), Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg has sent out an interim evaluation rubric that does include MGP as a criterion for evaluating teachers, even though MGP has been recognized as an imperfect and often incorrect measuring device. Part of the reason for this SB 191 implementation slowdown is because he and other “reformers” have not yet figured out how to use MGP to evaluate teachers of subjects not tested. MGP and principal evaluations? Mr. Boasberg is once again ahead of the curve. He is using MGP to evaluate principals even though that criterion again is not part of a principal’s formal evaluation. Meting out Global Punishment for the Meanspirited deGrading of Professionals based on a Misused Growth Prototype.

One final final note on MGP:  The DPS 2014 School Performance Framework (SPF) was just released.  The metrics used to determine a school’s ratings are heavily weighted toward “growth” over status or proficiency.  Some quick observations:  STRIVE Prep Westwood  (Southwest) with a 10% loss of proficiency resulting in an overall school proficiency of 52%, ranked as “Distinguished,”  Bromwell Elementary School also ranked as “Distinguished” having lost 8% proficiency also “Distinguished.”  Second tier – Meets Expectations – STRIVE Montbello (Far NorthEast) with a 19% proficiency loss, leading to a 40% overall proficiency, Grant Beacon Middle School (Southeast) rising to 42% proficiency with a 7% increase; McGlone Elementary (Far NorthEast) with a 35% school proficiency after a 7% loss, Colfax ES (Northwest) rising to 37% overall after a 1% increase.  Now, you tell me who truly has high expectations for our children and families when you deceive them into believing schools in the 30% and 40% proficiencies are “Distinguished” or ‘Meet Expectations.’  Whose expectations are they meeting with proficiencies such as these?  Certainly not mine.  Who really believes all kids can learn?  The political agendas and deception must cease.  Our students and communities deserve better.  They deserve the truth.

“Oh, what a a tangled web we weave…when first we practice to deceive.”  Sir Walter Scott.





Sawing the ZZZ’s

  6710845afa4ccd05a2bfc5556a7d22b8With thanks to Charles Schulz and Snoopy

If you have had or currently have a teenager, or if you ever were a teenager, you know how challenging school mornings can be. How many times is the snooze button hit before the somnambulant teenager finally puts her/his feet on the ground? How many yells of, “You’re going to be late,” are repeated before that sleepyhead puts her/his feet on the ground and heads to the bathroom?  There are biological reasons this scene is being repeated in home after home, generation after generation, and The American Association of Pediatricians (AAP) wants you to know what a serious health issue this has become.

American teenagers suffer from a lack of sleep. Middle and high school students are chronically affected by this health risk. Obesity, depression, absenteeism and tardiness rise, academic performance and public safety fall due to sleepiness. Last month The American Association of Pediatricians (AAP) released a study documenting the severity of this epidemic. And to its credit, the AAP has proposed a solution: start middle and high school later in the morning. While most secondary schools start between 7:15 and 8:15, the AAP recommends a start time of no earlier than 8:30 for middle and high school.  No surprise to those who have experienced and/or studied teenagers’ sleep patterns.  Some secondary schools even offer classes during something called “zero” period which is an even earlier start to the school day and occurs before first period which as we have seen is often too early for students to be alert and “ready to learn.” One unintended ironic consequence of “zero” period is the actual amount of learning that goes on – close to zero because the students are so sleepy and tired. The optimal level of sleep necessary to be high functioning teenagers? Eight and a half to nine and a half hours per night. Where the later start time has been implemented, behavior and atmosphere at school improves.

School start time is a topic of particular interest to me. Over 15 years ago my friend Anne and I joined the Denver Public Schools “Calendar Committee” to encourage a later start time. We had studied the available research and went so far as to contact two teenage sleep experts, both of whom are still involved in the issue: Mary S. Carskadon from Brown University and Kyla Wahlstrom from the University of Minnesota. In fact, Ms. Wahlstrom who was focusing on a Twin Cities’ suburban district, wanted to include DPS in her study as her urban district. Anne and I could not get the District’s interest in this, and the big recommendation from the calendar committee that year was to move the school year start date to before Labor Day. The rationale for that decision was if DPS students had more time for test prep, standardized test scores would improve. Fifteen plus years later we know how the extra time has played out! And most of our students are sweltering in non-air conditioned classrooms in August.

Some people try to pass off the sleepiness as kids being lazy or kids being irresponsible for not going to bed earlier. Some even say it is good for teenagers to have to be up early. That will prepare them for work.  The AAP study carefully and scientifically refutes these myths. The truth is teenagers often cannot fall asleep before midnight for two biological reasons: a reduction in the production of melatonin, and an altered “sleep drive.” Melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland that regulates the sleep-wake cycle (circadian cycle) decreases as a person ages. Melatonin causes drowsiness. Babies have a lot of melatonin. As people age the melatonin output declines and along with this reduction the circadian cycles shift as much as two hours a day.  The altered “sleep drive” results in increased difficulty for teenagers to fall asleep earlier, and it takes longer to fall asleep. What are the consequences of this?  It produces teenagers who truly are unable to go to sleep before 11 or midnight. Yet teenagers still need over eight hours of sleep per night to function at their best. Ignoring this need can have lifelong consequences.

As with many institutional changes, there are school-based reasons this seemingly simple reform meets with opposition. When Anne and I pushed for this change in the late 1990’s, we were met with pushback from what we called the three T’s: transportation, teams, teachers. Now of course, all of those T’s are trumped by an omnipresent T – TESTING. Today’s education “reformers” believe students need more time in school, including after school tutoring and double blocking for students who are behind in order to raise test scores.

There are societal barriers to changing start times as well: athletic practices and games (a “t” from above), after school employment, and caring for younger siblings to name the most prevalent. But if school truly is about students first and teaching and learning, why aren’t we looking at new ways to optimize learning opportunities?  We have had many years of education “reform” based on high-stakes testing, privatization, longer school days, and teacher bashing. These “reforms” have been a failure. (Previous posts STOP and Chutzpah provide the data). Isn’t it past time for the nation to be having an honest and relevant conversation about public education? If education is truly about kids, shouldn’t their well-being be at the forefront of any reform?  Maybe, just maybe, kids don’t need more time in school for more learning to occur.  Maybe kids just need to be awake and alert for the hours they are in school.